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Deprivation of citizenship must follow the most rigorous procedure available, says Justice Shah

Justice A.P. Shah.

Justice A.P. Shah.  

‘The overriding concern must be fairness, not quickness or efficiency’

“In the context of Assam — as well as in the country — citizenship, as the right to have rights, is one of the most basic, fundamental human rights in modern societies. Deprivation of citizenship must follow the most rigorous procedure available; the overriding concern must be fairness, not quickness or efficiency,” noted Justice (Retd.) A.P. Shah speaking at the concluding session of the two-day long “people’s tribunal” on ‘Contested Citizenship in Assam: People’s Tribunal on Constitutional Processes and Human Cost’.

‘Humanitarian crisis’

“We have heard the views and experiences of people excluded from the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, and of various leading experts, and we all agree that the NRC has spawned a humanitarian crisis. We worry because there are no signs of this crisis abating,” he added, reading from the “jury report” presented on Sunday.

Stating that a large number of minorities in Assam, whether religious, linguistic or ethnic, have lived with the fear of being told that they don’t belong to India, he said: “They may at any time be marked doubtful (D) voters, and prevented from exercising their franchise. A local border police constable can again at any time accuse them of being a foreigner and refer the case to a detention centre. Even after the final NRC, there are many demands for selective re-verification of the NRC.”

Also present at the “people’s tribunal” were Justice (Retd.) Kurian Joseph, Justice (Retd.) Madan B. Lokur, Professor Faizan Mustafa and Dr. Syeda Hameed, among others.

‘Burden of proof’

The panel noted that, after hearing the testimonies, they found that the “burden of proof was shifted to the residents to prove that they were citizens; documents such as those of birth, schooling and land-ownership, which impoverished and unlettered rural residents anywhere would find hard to muster, were insisted upon. Even when documents were produced, they were refused for discrepancies in the English-language spelling of Bengali names, or in ages.”

Prof. Mustafa said, “Two very fundamental ideas of India — Akhand Bharat and Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam — have been violated. How can we agree to treat individuals the way we are treating people in Assam? We have to understand that this is not about inclusion but exclusion and also, this is not about the people but the State.”

Stating that the implication of the human cost has to be considered in this case, Dr. Hameed said that what she heard at the “public hearing” was like a stab in the heart.

‘Edge of razor’

“Imagine if what is happening to Assam is extended to the rest of the country…what would it mean for us? I also have strong links with Kashmir and this makes me feel like I am on the edge of a razor. The idea of a nation-state has to be re-thought and we can’t over look the great human cost. The idea is not to exclude and divide,” she said.

“The fear of being excluded from the NRC, being declared as foreigner, and finally being sent to a detention centre, has created a situation of permanent paranoia among vulnerable communities, especially Bengal-origin Assamese Muslims and Bengali Hindus living in the State of Assam. This fear has pushed the people to a snapping point and many are committing suicide. Women and their children bear a disproportionately higher burden of the process,” noted the group.

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Printable version | Apr 1, 2020 7:27:46 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/deprivation-of-citizenship-must-follow-the-most-rigorous-procedure-available-says-justice-shah/article29368976.ece

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